The long and hard work of crafting the 2018 farm bill kicked off in June with a listening session hosted by the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in Gainesville at the University of Florida. Growers from several southern states were in attendance, and Florida was well represented during the session.
Congressman Neil Dunn (R-FL) sits on the House Agriculture Committee, and he told attendees the fact that farmers’ net incomes are down 50% would be an important driver as the new bill is written. Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) warned attendees that writing the new farm bill is going to be a difficult task because there will be fewer resources available to spend on the bill compared to the 2014 law.
John Hoblick, President of the Florida Farm Bureau, spoke on major concerns for the state’s growers as farm bill discussions begin. While support of traditional row crops is important in the new legislation, he noted Florida has a much wider breadth of production with more than 300 commodities grown in state.
“Florida Farm Bureau’s farm bill priorities for 2018 support a national farm policy that includes price and yield loss safety nets, specialty crop block grants, producer friendly conservation programs, permanent and comprehensive disaster relief, and long-term renewable energy benefits,” Hoblick testified.
He emphasized the importance of a comprehensive safety net for all the state’s growers. He said a safety net is essential to give growers the ability to keep farming in uncertain times.
Hoblick also pointed out the importance of continuing to fund specialty crop block grants.
“Florida is ranked second in specialty crop production and first in the value of multiple specialty crops production areas such as watermelons, grapefruits, tomatoes, oranges, cucumbers, and snap beans. From 2008 to 2015, Florida received $31.2 million in these funds for 208 projects to enhance competitiveness and profitability of our specialty crop market sector.”
He said these grants are very important to the work of UF/IFAS and the critical research it does on behalf of the state’s growers.
“Cuts to specialty crop block programs or complete elimination will disadvantage Florida’s specialty crop industry and put our growers in an ever-more-consistent backdrop of NAFTA failures.”
Speaking of NAFTA, Hoblick said his organization supports the renegotiation of NAFTA. He said there is a need to strengthen and enforce mechanisms to combat illegal dumping of produce that can destroy Florida’s market window.
Regarding NAFTA, he added, “Florida has indisputably struggled. We have seen dramatic reductions in market share in key Florida specialty crops including tomatoes, strawberries, and bell peppers due to prolific Mexican dumping into our markets.”
Hoblick said trade should be free, but also fair, which is not the case with how NAFTA is currently structured and enforced.
He closed his remarks with the H-2A program and the need to make user-friendly reforms to the program, which has become so important to the state.
“Florida was the No. 1 user of certified H-2A labor in 2016, with 13.8% of [total] usage” he said. “And, we could use more.”
Thanks to John for speaking on behalf of Florida growers in the first farm bill listening session. There will be many more discussions ahead as this new legislation is crafted. Your participation in this process will be crucial to ensure your needs are understood and addressed in the 2018 farm bill.